Thru-Hiking the AT: Why I’m Thru-Hiking after College Graduation
A Brief Intro
I’ve gone back and forth on whether to thru-hike in the past couple months. I’m not the most experienced backpacker, and the decision to do a thru with less than a year to prepare is intimidating to me and for everyone I know. Most people probably don’t know that I’ve been seriously considering thru-hiking, but I figure the best way to do this is to say that I am so I can’t back out just because it’s intimidating. So here’s my justification for thru-hiking. My hopes are that this justification will help other prospective thru-hikers, as well as commit myself to actually thru-hiking. So here begins why I want to thru-hike the AT in 2020.
I’m graduating college this year, one year early. There was a time I didn’t think I was going to make it to the point of graduating. Not because of grades or anything academic, but because of internal struggles I had been having for a while. Having major depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and some pretty traumatic experiences my freshman year, I really didn’t think I’d live to graduate. This might come as a surprise to some, but it’s the cold hard facts of the beginning of my college experience. Fast forward to my sophomore and junior years of college, I’m living back in New York state, graduating in May 2020 with a BS in public health, and life is pretty OK. I certainly can’t say that everything is perfect, that I’m never depressed or anxious, or that I’ve figured out some perfect path for my life. Hell, I have no idea what I’ll be doing tomorrow, let alone a year or two from now. But I lived to graduate, get better, and find my passion for hiking. Thru-hiking seems like a good culmination to this chapter of my life, and an amazing start to the next one.
Well, if you’re here, you probably like hiking too. Which means I don’t have to convince you how refreshing it is to be out in the woods sans technology and people. That’s one reason. The other? Well, I have asthma. I can’t run more than half a mile without using my inhaler, which means any sport that involves running (ie, soccer, basketball, etc), isn’t going to happen. With hiking, I can go at my own pace and at my own time (for the most part). I fell in love with hiking when I realized how much calmer my mind was out in the woods. I get so caught up in my future, my GPA, and what my job is going to be after I graduate, that I forget to stop and appreciate living. Being in the woods helps me do that, and since the day I had that realization, I’ve been obsessed with being outdoors.
Why a Thru-Hike?
This past summer, I went on a cross-country trip living in my Subaru Forester with my boyfriend, Dan. We slept in state and national forests, and BLM land. It was my crazy idea of converting my Subie that made that trip become a reality. I remember lying in the Subie one night and asking Dan what was next. Neither of us knew. I just knew I couldn’t put my adventurous side on hold. I had to find another intimidating, challenging, and rewarding thing to do. Hiking the Appalachian Trail just naturally felt like the next adventure.
I’m graduating college, have minimal obligations, and want to see if I can do this thing by myself. Honestly, I have no idea if I can, but I don’t think anyone knows that they can hike thousands of miles until they actually do it. Before I went to college, everyone told me to “follow my dreams” and “pick a field I was really passionate about.” I’ve thought a lot about that over the past two and a half years. Though most of those people that said I should “follow my dreams” meant academically (and probably thought I would try to become a microbiologist or doctor), I have a different way of interpreting that statement. I should follow my dreams, regardless of whether they’re academically relevant, important to my family and friends, or have anything to do with a future career. As long as I can make it financially feasible, I don’t see why not to do something as adventurous as thru-hiking the AT.
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